Day 1, April 27, 2010
It had been over two decades since I last made the drive from the Bay Area to Reno or Tahoe, when my parents had lived in Carson City and Reno, NV. That was a shame, because it was grandly beautiful, majestic in an Old West sense. The cold rain was becoming late season snow even as low as Auburn where I had stopped for a quick lunch. The National Weather Service forecast a notable storm and Donner Pass was anticipated to require snow chains by late afternoon. I did not have snow chains. I had absolutely no intention of buying or using snow chains, ever again. So I ate half my lunch and hit the road, expecting to beat the wrath of the storm and the chain requirements by several hours. I had food, water, a knife, extra clothing, a strobe light and other survival gear as a precaution, but forget those snow chains.
As it was, I was less than ten miles from the summit in moderate snow, dangerously heavy winds but light traffic, cruising a clear Interstate Highway 80 when the phone rang, and it was not good news. It was Goldie. Goldie and Don Hill were the heart of the Reunion Association and had planned and hosted the reunions for many, many years. Don had been ill for some time but had just taken a turn for the much worse and much sooner than expected. But Don, a marine if there ever was one, insisted that Goldie attend the event in Reno and she was going to do it, planning to arrive in a couple of days with two dear friends to assist her. Goldie wanted to let me know and asked if I could run the events. Of course I could, and would. But in reality she had done such a thorough job organizing it all that there was little for me to do but but be seen and heard and I certainly was capable of that.
After checking in at Harrah’s I called Stacy, their event person. Young, tall, pretty, smart and yes, blonde, worldly past her years, she was a gem in accomodating our rather fluid needs. The 24” X 36” Humble Heroes book cover poster was suitably displayed in the lobby as well as the hospitality suite for the crew and families.
This was not another USS Nashville Reunion. St. Louis 2009 was the last, finally, even after others had been touted as such. This was different, it was a gathering and became known as a “Gathering of Humble Heroes” in honor of each other and the book. Less structured than a reunion, certainly with less pomp and fanfare, it was a casual meeting of those connected by a shared experiences and interests.
When I saw them, they were gathered around a large round table in the hospitality suite atop the building, awaiting more of each other and the food and drink that would soon become available. And touchingly for me, many had their books with them, asking each other to sign them. In an hour more came to fill another table and then yet another. Old friends and families engaging again against the odds of time and serendipity. It was wonderful to see them, fewer in number than ever, yet just as full of life too.
And of course, the stories began to slip out, quietly at first and then as one begat the other and fueled old but full memories, they escaped the minds like free flowing water and were nearly continuous, non-stop, and it was a rejuvenation. They spoke of men no longer with us, the spoke of liberty in Australia (always a favorite topic) and they spoke of some of the unspeakable. A few had a tear in their eyes but all conversation made the turn back to the pleasant and entertaining. Even a story of spending a few days in the brig, with a menu of bread and water every other day, drew smiles and laughs. They were simply glad to be here, be among family and among ship mates that understood a shared experience that others never would.